When it comes to the comedic duos that have influence cinema, no-one comes close to Laurel and Hardy.
Seriously, no one.
As influencers of comedy, their work has become the bedrock of sharp wit, physical slapstick and comedic timing, inspiring a generation of talents such as Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, David Schneider and none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.
It’s the simplicity of their humour that frequently strikes at the heart of their talent. They’re the original odd couple, and in their well-timed universe, they bring a combinational balance to their films. It’s the ‘Southern gentleman’ and the dim-witted English companion. It’s the occasional mannerisms of Hardy’s exuberant tie-wave and Laurel’s head scratch. It’s the absurd and endlessly escalating situations they often find themselves in.
Whatever the circumstance, the same magic wouldn’t exist if their jokes were performed by other comics. ‘One of a kind’ and ‘legendary’ are casually thrown around when describing actors, but Laurel and Hardy undoubtedly live up to that statement.
Thanks to director Jon S. Baird (Cass, Filth), audiences now have a chance to once again witness that outstanding partnership in the charmingly delightful biopic Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.
With that in mind, it’s time to take a step back into history and celebrate some of their best work from their glorious heyday.
Busy Bodies (1933)
It’s only twenty minutes long and yet Busy Bodies could have been the significant influence to Home Alone! Working at a sawmill is a hazardous job, and Laurel and Hardy make the most of it. The entire film is a ‘moment’, packed full of fast-paced, running gags where one thing leads to another with Oliver Hardy (typically) on the receiving end. It’s safe to say that they lost their on-screen jobs once the film ended.
The Music Box (1932)
Similar to Busy Bodies, whenever Laurel and Hardy have a job, the physicality of the role ends up being part of the joke. As delivery men, they try to move a piano into a home by climbing some stairs. Not to spoil it, but the hilarity that comes from The Music Box is how the piano ends up back at its original, starting position.
Saps at Sea (1940)
“You’re going to like this because it’s just like how mother used to make.” Not only does Saps at Sea have to contend with Hardy’s allergic and violent reaction to the sound of horns or the pair renting a boat to escape the escape the drama, but it involves one of the best/worst plans by the duo. Having a stowaway murderer on their boat is one thing, having to make food for him is another. In a bid to trick him, get back to shore and collect the reward money, the pair ends up making ‘synthetic’ replacement food (string for the spaghetti, red paint for the tomato sauce or a sponge for meatballs) for their uninvited guest.
The plan backfires spectacularly due to one, unforeseen circumstance – their guest was watching the entire time and forced them to eat their creations. It has to be seen to be believed, just for their facial expressions alone.
Way Out West (1937)
No ‘Best of Laurel & Hardy’ list is complete without mentioning the dance number from one of their beloved and well-known films. Arriving at Mickey Finns Palace, Laurel and Hardy are greeted by the sounds of J. Leubrie Hill’s ‘At the Ball’, performed by The Avalon Boys. In any other film, this moment would have been a ‘nothing’ scene – easy background music for arriving guests. But two minutes later, it becomes one of the most iconic moments in cinema history.
Granted, it’s silly and playful, but their personal mannerisms and quirks are littered throughout every move. It comes as no surprise that Stan & Ollie brilliantly incorporates it as its centrepiece as a definitive moment in their careers. It brings a smile to your face.
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Laurel and Hardy have always made a formidable pair. That is despite forming by accident! But an underrated aspect of their sketches involves their ability to play on partnerships. That’s not specifically related to the dynamic duo. It’s quite the opposite. More specifically, it relates to their wives.
Their wives have always been an essential fulcrum of their relationship. While other characters have been reactionary figures to their jokes, their wives always seem to be ahead of the curve of their misdemeanours and end up being the smartest people in the room.
That is brilliantly illustrated in Sons of the Desert, where Stan and Ollie lie to their wives so they can both attend an ‘all boys’ convention, aptly called ‘Sons of the Desert’. Having discovered their lying ways (thanks to the beauty of cinema), the entire third act is the duo trying to worm their way out of that lie, involving mishaps such as escaping to the attic without making a noise, building a hammock or sliding down a drainpipe. Naturally, everything goes wrong for them, but the pure enjoyment is watching the duo take a notable step back in letting their significant others that empowering spotlight to shine and expose that truth.
Stan & Ollie is in cinemas now.